Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 27)

Text: Matthew 25:10-13
"The foolish ones went off to buy some oil; and while they were gone, the bridegroom arrived. The five who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed. “Later the others arrived. ‘Sir, sir! Let us in!' they cried out. "Certainly not! I don't know you,' the bridegroom answered.” And Jesus concluded, “Watch out, then, because you do not know the day or the hour”
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Don’t miss the party!

Any parent who has had a daughter prepare for her wedding day knows how much research happens beforehand and how important the preparation for the big day is.  The dresses, the colours, the hair styling, the cosmetics, the attendants, the photographer, and the detailed planning of who will be doing what and when, ensure the smooth running of the whole event.  Having been the father of the bride three times, it’s quite evident that until the bride meets her groom at the altar, the radiant bride is the focus of the whole event. 

Everyone waits for her arrival.  Even if she is late, everyone is gracious and waits patiently because today she is the bride.  As she is getting ready and when she arrives at the church, every movement of the bride is photographed.  Everyone stands when she enters the church.  Everyone stares at her beautiful dress.  The groom is just the guy sweating next the minister.  He is the lucky one who has won the love of the beautiful woman walking down the aisle.

Jesus liked to talk about weddings and wedding celebrations but in Jesus’ day it was the groom who was the centre of attention and the guests were prepared to wait no matter how late he was. 

In Jesus’ day it was the groom who did all the hard work preparing for the wedding because he had to negotiate with the bride’s family about a gift to give to them in return for their daughter.  Often, the bride’s parents would extend the negotiations and play hard to get on with as a way of showing how precious their daughter was to them and that she was worth every shekel he was paying. Sometimes this meant a delay in starting the celebrations.

In Jesus’ story, the bridesmaids are waiting for the groom.  There was to be a torchlight parade to the wedding banquet.  But the groom was delayed.  Five of them, however, were ready for the torchlight parade.  Five had to rush off to the store to buy more oil and missed the parade.  The problem was when they wanted to enter the feast, they were considered no different than other uninvited seekers.  The feast had begun and the doors were locked.  It was too late.

A preacher was telling this parable, of the wise and foolish girls to a group of teenage boys.  He became rather excited in his presentation and concluded his address with a rhetorical question saying, “Young men, I ask you, where would you rather be?  Here, in the light, at the feast for the bridegroom, or there, out in the dark with a group of foolish young girls?” 

Immediately he knew this was the wrong thing to ask teenage boys and almost with one voice they responded with a laugh, “Out in the dark with a group of foolish young girls, sir”. 

That was a smart answer but not what Jesus had in mind.  He is saying that it is not very smart at all to be caught unprepared for something that you know for certain is going to happen.  All ten girls knew that the bridegroom would come and that a wedding feast was about to begin.  They didn’t know exactly when this would happen but it would happen. 

The problem for the ten girls waiting for the groom to arrive was how much oil they would need for their torches.  We don’t know exactly what kind of torches these were but most experts tend to think of them as rags wrapped around the end of a stick that were dipped in oil.  These were more commonly used in outdoor settings. Five of the girls brought along extra oil and so when it was announced that the bridegroom was near they were able to dip there torches in the extra oil and join the parade.

The other five didn’t have extra oil to get their torches going again.  They hurried to the IGA to buy more oil but by the time they got back it was too late.  They had what was needed but the delay was fatal.  The door to the wedding feast was shut.  They banged on the door.  They begged to be let in.  A voice replied.  “Certainly not!  I don’t know you.”

What a disturbing end to Jesus’ story!  Jesus is telling this story especially to his disciples, those who knew him the best.  He is telling his followers one day the door will be shut and some will be left outside and others who are prepared will be inside with the groom.

What is Jesus teaching us through this story?

Firstly, Jesus, the bridegroom, is coming.  This story, along with the rest of Scripture, leaves us in no doubt that Jesus is coming again.  We don’t know precisely when he will come again but he is definitely returning.  This may not be the most popular idea in our material and pleasure centred culture, and, we might look like idiots believing in the second coming of Jesus, but it will happen.

Secondly, it is clear that Jesus’ return will happen in God’s time and not according to any kind of schedule that we might think God ought to follow.  It might seem like a long time between his first and second coming but in God's eyes 2 or 3 thousand years are nothing.  The Bible tells us that without a doubt we are now living in the last times before Jesus will come again.

Thirdly, this parable of Jesus is all about waiting and being ready. God has graciously given this time of waiting so that everyone has a chance to get ready. 

Lily was expecting Scott to pick her up for a date. She was dressed up and waiting patiently. However, after an hour had gone by, she figured she had been stood up, so she took off her makeup, put on her pyjamas, gathered all the junk food in the pantry and sat down to watch TV with the dog.  As her favourite show was just coming on, the doorbell rang.  It was Scott.  He stared at her wide-eyed, “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?”

I don’t think Lily was expecting that. Jesus is delaying so that everyone who has never heard of his dying and rising to life will be given a chance to know their Saviour. 
He is delaying to give as much time as possible for people to reconsider their relationship with Jesus especially those who have heard but have rejected what Jesus is offering or have left taking Jesus seriously until another day. 
He is delaying so that no one can have the excuse that they didn’t have time to get ready for his return.

He is delaying his return to give the church, you and me, time to give every person in our community a chance to hear about Jesus and to respond to the Good News.  
He is delaying because he knows that when he does those who have turned away from Jesus, those who have lapsed, become lazy, don’t care about what Jesus offers, will have to deal with their own sin and death and their consequences all by themselves. The door will be shut.  In desperation people will realise their stupidity but it will be too late. They are on their own.

It’s easy to think that we have plenty of time before we need to worry about the second coming of Jesus. 
Do property owners only clean the leaves out of their gutters after the first sparks from a bushfire drop into their gutters? 
Do car owners only service their cars after they break down? 
Do we change the bald tyres on our cars after we have skidded off a wet road and hit a tree? 
We know how important it is to do these things, and yet so many people think that being ready for Jesus coming isn’t important.  For all sorts of reasons people stop going to church until eventually God is no longer a part of their lives. Faith is forgotten and children grow up without anyone showing them who God is. 

Paul says, “This is the hour to receive God's favour; today is the day to be saved!” (2 Cor 6:2). 
Be ready, Jesus is saying,
honour God above all other things,
trust Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life;
get to know God and his plan for our lives through reading and studying the Bible;
pray diligently;
help and care for those who need comfort, help and support;
listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and let the love of Christ control everything we say and do.
Or to use the imagery of the parable – keep our lamps lit and ready, wait for the inevitable coming of the bridegroom.  There will come the day when Jesus will return.  The dead will rise and enter eternal glory.  The door will be shut.  Then it will be too late.  Those who are not ready will be left outside and the dreadful sentence rings out, “I never knew you”. 

He does not say, “I never loved you.” “I never called you”, “I never drew you to myself.  He only says, “I never knew you – because you never bothered to know me.”

This is hard hitting parable because it is a parable of judgement, it strikes at the core of our half-heartedness and luke-warmness. 
It hits hard at our lack of commitment to Jesus and his Church. 
It strikes out at all those good intentions we have but never get around to fulfilling them. Good intentions that all start “One day”
“One day I’ll get around to studying my Bible”.
“One day I’ll spend more time, praying, worshipping, volunteering or whatever”.

The words of Jesus in this parable shout at us saying that leaving everything to “one day” in the future may be just too late.  “Watch out because you do not know when I will return,” he says.

Without a doubt in some way, we will always be a lot like those foolish girls and be less committed and prepared than Jesus requires.  We are sinners and can’t help ourselves.  And so we turn to Jesus, we ask for his help, his forgiveness for our failure to be committed disciples waiting for his return. 

It is only because of Jesus and his grace that we will end up on the right side of the closed door, the side where all the partying is taking place.  We ask him to keep us alert to living as members of his family, to forgive us for the times when we say “One day I’ll get around to it” and to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be ready for that glorious day when he will come again.

Robert Capon says in conclusion to his comments on this parable, “We do, indeed, need to watch for him; because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.” (The Parables of Judgment, 1989, Eerdmans).

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th November 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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